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Equality Forum celebrates 31 LGBT Icons in October

The month of October was first recognized as LGBT History Month in 1994.

October is LGBT History Month, and each year, the Equality Forum celebrates the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender icons. For the last 11 years, the organization has spotlighted one LGBT Icon each day in the month of October in order to educate the community on LGBT individuals who have made an impact on the community and society at large.

The month of October was first recognized as LGBT History Month in 1994 when Missouri high school teacher Rodney Wilson believed that a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history. He gathered other teachers and community leaders and selected October because in general, most public schools are in session, and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, also occur that month.

Every year since 2007, Equality Forum has shared a diverse line-up of icons each day this month that culminates today, with the celebration of Wilson, the founder of LGBT History Month. The icons are selected annually by a community panel coordinated by Equality Forum, this year co-chaired by LGBT activists Lillian Faderman and Paul Farber.

See the list of 2017 icons below, and click the hyperlinks for additional information, videos, and photos of each individual.

1. David Adamany

David Adamany was the first openly gay president of an American university. He served as president of Wayne State University in Detroit and Temple University in Philadelphia. He was nationally recognized as a leader in higher education.

2. Tom Ammiano

Tom Ammiano is an LGBT rights activist and one of the first American politicians to fight discrimination against LGBT schoolteachers. He served as the San Francisco school board president, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a member of the California State Assembly.

3. Jack Baker & Michael McConnell

Jack Baker and Michael McConnell are pioneering marriage equality advocates. In 1970 they became the first same-sex couple in the United States to apply for a marriage license. Later, in Baker v. Nelson, they became the first to file a state lawsuit for marriage equality.

4. Billy Bean

William “Billy” Bean is the second Major League Baseball player to come out.

5. Ruth Bernan & Connie Kurtz

Ruth Berman and Connie Kurtz were the first same-sex couple in the United States to successfully sue an employer for domestic partner benefits. Their landmark case against the New York City Board of Education eventually led to the extension of health and dental benefits to the domestic partners of all New York City employees.

6. Selisse Berry

Selisse Berry is the founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. Based in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., it is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to LGBT employment equality.

7. Charlotte Bunch

Charlotte Bunch is an internationally renowned activist, feminist author and National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, who has devoted her life to women’s rights. She is the founding director and senior scholar at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, where she is also a distinguished professor in the Department of Women’s Studies.

8. Lynn Conway

Born male in Mt. Vernon, New York, Lynn Conway is a pioneer in microelectronic chip design and a transgender activist. She helped shape the way modern computers are designed and built.

9. George Cukor

George Cukor was an Academy Award-winning film director best known for his comedies and literary adaptations for the screen. His film classics include “The Philadelphia Story,” “A Star is Born” and “My Fair Lady.” During his career, he directed more Oscar-winning performances than anyone else.

10. Wade Davis II

Wade Alan Davis II is the first NFL player to come out. He is a pioneering LGBT advocate who directs the You Can Play Project, an organization that educates the pro sports industry about LGBT issues.

11. Brian Epstein

Brian Epstein was a British music producer, best known for discovering and managing The Beatles. 

12. Edythe Eyde

In 1947 Edythe Eyde launched the first lesbian publication in the United States, laying the groundwork for gay and lesbian publishing. 

13. Eric Fanning

Nominated by President Barack Obama, Eric Fanning served as the 22nd Secretary of the Army, the largest branch of the U.S. military. The confirmation made him the first openly gay man to lead a U.S. military department and the highest-ranking openly gay official ever at the Pentagon.

14. Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza is an African-American activist and writer who co-founded the racial justice movement, Black Lives Matter.

15. Mary Douglas Glasspool

The Rt. Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool is the first out lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion—an association of Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world. Glasspool follows in the footsteps of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican bishop, who was consecrated in 2003.

16. Karl Gorath

Karl Gorath was imprisoned at Auschwitz for being gay. He was arrested in his home in 1938 after a jealous lover reported him to the Nazis.

17. Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry is an acclaimed American playwright and author, best known for “A Raisin in the Sun.” She was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway.

18. Taiga Ishikawa

Taiga Ishikawa is the first openly gay public official elected in Japan.

19. Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, is an Olympic gold medalist and internationally known transgender activist. Forty years after his Olympic victory, Jenner became the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

20. Marsha P. Johnson

Born Malcolm Michaels, Marsha P. Johnson was a well-known New York City drag queen who fought police at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and became a trailblazing transgender, gay rights, and AIDS activist.

21. Alain Locke

Alain Locke was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar, a writer, an educator and a philosopher of race and culture. He is considered the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

22. Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow is an award-winning American singer and songwriter. He has recorded 47 Top 40 singles and sold more than 80 million albums worldwide, making him one of the best-selling recording artists of all time.

23. Johnny Mathis

Johnny Mathis is a Grammy Award-winning American singer who sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. One of the most popular solo artists of the 20th century, he released more than 200 singles. “The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson called him “the best ballad singer in the world.”

24. Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima is the pen name of Kimitake Hiraoka, one of the most prolific and influential Japanese authors of the 20th century. He was the first living Japanese writer to gain broad recognition in the West.

25. Craig Rodwell

Craig Rodwell was a Gay Pioneer and the leading New York activist of the 1960s. He founded the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, the nation’s first gay bookstore, and the New York Pride Parade.

26. Jeffrey Seller

Jeffrey Seller is Tony Award-winning theater producer best known for the smash hits “Rent,” “Avenue Q,” “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

27. Krysten Sinema

Kyrsten Sinema is the first openly bisexual person elected to the U.S. Congress.

28. Peter Staley

Peter Staley is a pioneering American AIDS activist who founded the Treatment Action Group (TAG) and AIDSmeds.com. He is featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”

29. Vaughn Walker

As a federal judge in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, Vaughn Walker ruled as unconstitutional California’s Prop 8 prohibition of same sex-marriage.

30. Jeffrey Weinstein

Jeffrey Weinstein is a writer, editor and critic. As a union representative, he won the first employee healthcare benefits for same-sex couples from a private employer.

31. Rodney Wilson

Rodney Wilson is a high school teacher credited with creating Gay History Month. October was selected because schools are in session, and it is the month in which the first national march for lesbian and gay rights occurred and National Coming Out Day is celebrated.

Nominations for 2018 icons

Equality Forum is now accepting nominations for LGBT History Month 2018 Icons. Submit your nomination here. The deadline for submissions is Friday, December 8, 2017.